Design Careers in Fashion
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Fashion Designer Job Profile
Fashion designers work on the design of clothing. Some may focus completely on a specialist area, such as sportswear, childrenswear or accessories.
Job DescriptionThe main markets they design for are haute couture, designer ready-to-wear and high street fashion. Developments in technology mean that a designer ready-to-wear product can be produced as a high street version in just a few weeks.
Depending on level of responsibility and the company, a designer may work to their own brief or be given a brief to work towards (including specifications in relation to colour and fabric) and develop a product from this.
Typical Work Activities
The main areas of work for fashion designers are:
- High street fashion, where the majority of designers work and where garments are manufactured in their thousands. Influences play a key role in this design process and the turnaround of 'young fashion' in particular can be quite rapid.
- Ready-to-wear. Many designers will also produce ready-to-wear collections, although these are produced in relatively small numbers.
- Haute couture. This requires large amounts of time working on the production of individual garments.
Tasks depend on the market the designer is producing for, but core responsibilities include:
- Creating/visualising an idea and making a sketch by hand or using computer aided design (CAD);
- Analysing trends in fabrics, colours and shapes;
- Keeping up to date with emerging fashion trends;
- Planning and developing ranges;
- Working with others in the design team, such as buyers and forecasters, to develop a product to meet the brief;
- Liaising closely with sales, buying and production teams to ensure the item complements other products;
- Developing a pattern that is then cut and sewn into sample garments;
- Sourcing, selecting and buying fabrics;
- Adapting existing designs for mass production;
- Supervising the making up of sample garments;
- Overseeing production;
- Negotiating with customers and suppliers;
- Managing marketing, finances and other business activities if working on a self-employed basis.
Salary and Conditions
- Range of typical starting salaries: £16,000 - £23,000 for London-based roles (salary data collected June 07). Range of typical starting salaries outside London: £12,000 - £14,000 although entry jobs are rare outside London.
- A good junior designer can expect to earn between £30,000 - £40,000 within three to four years (salary data collected June 07).
- Salaries vary depending on geographical location and type of employer.
- Range of typical salaries at senior level, such as head designer: £40,000 - £60,000 (salary data collected June 07).
- Working hours typically include regular extra hours, but not usually weekend or shift work.
- The working environment varies between companies and can range from a Victorian-style factory, to a modern purpose-built office or a small, smart design studio. Freelance designers may work from home or in rented studio areas.
- With the increase in online retailing, setting up in business or being self-employed is becoming more common - even straight after graduation. Although this is a long-term option, (particularly for those seeking flexible hours) extensive market research, business training and resilience is critical for any fashion business to succeed.
- The gender ratio is approximately 25%:75% male to female. More men have designer collections in high fashion but senior designers elsewhere in the industry are usually women.
- The majority of opportunities are available in London and the South East, although there are vacancies in the Midlands and some large towns and cities in the North West and Scotland.
- The pressure of deadlines and working antisocial hours to meet these can intrude on private life.
- Career success relies on a combination of creativity, perseverance and resilience.
- Travel within the working day, absence from home at night and overseas work is occasional. There is scope for travel abroad, for example to attend trade shows or to meet suppliers.
Entry requirementsAlthough this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in the following subjects will increase your chances
- Art and design;
- Graphic design;
- Clothing technology.
Although sometimes possible, entry without a degree is increasingly unlikely and you would need to be able to prove that you have already gained expertise and experience in the industry. Graduates from non-fashion/textile-related courses would also need to gain experience in the industry to demonstrate they have a real passion and aptitude for fashion design.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a requirement but an MA in Fashion/Textile Design can improve opportunities, particularly for designers from other academic areas. MA courses in specific areas of fashion requiring slightly different skills and experience can be helpful in gaining related employment. For example, childrenswear not only requires an interest in this area but also knowledge of sizing and textile properties; menswear may require knowledge of pattern cutting and tailoring where appropriate.
Companies may be reluctant to consider candidates without previous experience in the industry. Work experience of any kind in a design studio is highly desirable. Experience in retail can also be useful. New graduates often gain experience working with designers in Italy, France or the USA before starting in the UK.
Employers usually expect to see a portfolio that clearly demonstrates the ability to design and produce garments. Potential candidates will also need to show evidence of the following:
- Creative flair, including an eye for colour and a feel for fabrics;
- Design and visualising skills, either by hand or through computer aided design (CAD);
- Technical skills, including pattern cutting;
- A proactive approach;
- Commercial awareness and business orientation;
- Self-promotion and confidence;
- Interpersonal, communication and networking skills;
- Negotiation and influencing skills;
- Garment technology skills/knowledge;
- Teamworking skills;
- Organisational and time management skills.
Top design houses rarely advertise their vacancies. Throughout the industry, employment opportunities are frequently secured via speculative applications and effective networking. It is, therefore, important to try to build relationships with more established designers and companies, regardless of whether you are seeking permanent or freelance openings.
It is illegal for employers to discriminate against candidates on the grounds of age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or religious faith. For more information on equality and diversity in the job market and how to handle discrimination see the AGCAS publication, Handling Discrimination.
You may be interested in further information about work experience and further study.
TrainingThe training available to a fashion or clothing designer not only depends on the courses taken prior to employment, but also on the company. Pre-entry fashion design courses aim to give students an idea of what to expect through practical teaching and placements. However, once in employment, specific development opportunities can be limited. The culture of the industry is very much that people learn while doing the job. Initially, training is likely to be restricted to learning about the practical processes used in an individual company.
During a designer's career, training opportunities are frequently limited in scope as career development may result in only subtle changes in work. However, larger firms may provide business and computer training, which could include computer aided design (CAD) or other specialist software, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, to help design patterns.
There are also various opportunities to undertake courses covering different or specialist aspects of fashion. These are offered as short courses or part-time degree/postgraduate options. Relevant course details are available through resources such as the Prospects Postgraduate Directory and Art and Design Postgraduate Courses.
Career developmentAs a trainee fashion clothing designer, career development will depend on your specialism, experience and reputation. The type of company you work for will also influence the specific roles available and opportunities for career development. Progression can be slow, particularly at the start of your career. Being proactive and making contacts in the industry is essential in a sector where people frequently move jobs in order to progress their career and there is a lot of pressure to produce new ideas which are commercially viable.
Design room assistant is the most junior level role based in the design room. Typical responsibilities include making up sample cards, chasing fabric samples and pattern cutting, but also answering the telephone and making coffee. Assistant designer is a step up. In this role, there is the opportunity to have a creative input through proposing ideas for shapes, colours, moods and techniques, although you are unlikely to have much influence in major decisions. Other activities include making up mood and trend boards, drawing up technical specifications for manufacturers and some responsibilities for a small area of a range.
Designers make the decisions on colour and mood for the season and design the more important elements of the range. It could take up to five years' related experience to secure such a position. With several years' design experience, progression is available through senior designer roles to the position of head designer. At this level, you will have considerable responsibility regarding overall design decisions and influences for the range, but designers will do the actual design work.
Design and technical director positions represent further progression. Fashion designers are increasingly becoming involved in homewares and gifts design which can open up new career paths. Alternatively, designers may consider becoming self-employed or moving into related occupations, such as retail buying, photography, fashion styling or journalism.
Typical EmployersThe majority of fashion and clothing designers work for branded/high-street stores and independent labels. They may be employed at an in-house design studio based in either a manufacturing or retail organisation.
Specialist design studios serving the couture and designer ready-to-wear markets, who may produce designs for a number of manufacturing or retailing companies, are another source of employment. However, the top design houses are a relatively small market compared to the high street fashion sector.
Some fashion designers gain work overseas with designers based in countries such as France, Italy and the USA. If you are interested in working abroad, Apparel Search contains information and contact details for companies and fashion organisations around the world.
Opportunities also exist for self-employment. Freelance fashion designers can market their work through trade fairs and via agents or by making direct contact with buyers from larger businesses or niche clothing outlets.
A number of organisations offer specific training and support for setting up a fashion business. The London Apparel Resource Centre provides members with access to facilities, trend forecasting, mentoring and portfolio advice and a range of other services. Designer-maker organisations such as Hidden Art and the Clerkenwell Green Association offer new business awards and studio space for London-based designers. Check your local business link to access specialised fashion business support elsewhere in the country.
Find graduate employers on prospects.ac.uk.
Typical employers/vacancy sources
- Search for job vacancies on this site
- The Guardian;
- London Evening Standard (fashion vacancies on Tuesdays);
- The Appointment.
Recruitment agencies and specialist publications and fashion networks are an important source of contacts and vacancies. There are numerous agencies that represent different market levels. These include:
- Denza International;
- Smith & Pye;
- Fashion and Retail Personnel.
You may also be interested in our job hunting tips and our applications, CVs and interviews section.
- Clothing/textile technologist
- Fashion illustrator
- Fashion predictor
- Fashion stylist
- Magazine journalist
- Pattern cutter/grader
- Production manager
- Quality assurance manager
- Retail buyer
- Retail merchandiser
- Textile designer
Award - Perfect Patterns (500/4308/0)
Perfect Patterns is a six week course during which you will learn the fundamentals of pattern making: how to draft blocks and use them to create your patterns.
Certificate - Perfect Patterns (500/5197/0)
Perfect Patterns 2 is a ten week course which provides you with the knowledge and skills to produce a range of valuable, in-demand and technical pattern drafting and cutting skills.
Award - Stitching Academy (500/4308/0)
Stitching Academy is a six week course, where you can learn the fundamentals of using a variety of industrial sewing machines: how to set them up and use them safely, maintain the machines and identify the correct settings for the fabric.
Certificate - Stitching Academy (500/5197/0)
Stitching Academy Level 2 is a twelve week course which follows on from Level 1. From garment construction to handcraft tailoring techniques, this course will further develop your skills and knowledge.